"It was Maya's voice!"
That brought on a dead silence as the three tried to decide between feeling relieved in that Maya was not dead as Ella had thought or whether to panic in that Maya was in danger.
Slayer stirred first, snatching his laptop. "I'm going to retrace the call, find out where it came from."
Fire smacked his face to snap himself out of his daze. "I'm gonna check on North and History."
"Can I go?" asked Ella.
"Sorry, no, stay in the truck."
"For safety reasons, Ella. Please!" He hopped out of the truck without another word and rushed across the road to the convenience store.
North was exiting the store by now, with History, who carried a bagful of chocolate bars and snacks.
Fire stopped. "Uh - who paid for all that?" he asked.
He didn't need to ask, apparently; North grabbed him by his jacket's collar as soon as he approached. "You owe me twenty bucks for that, Fire."
"Yes, understood," said Fire. "History, are you trying to make your brother broke?"
"I'm hungry," said History.
"And you seriously fail as an older brother," said North. "Try to be more strict with her, too. And control how much food she eats."
"Anyway, what's up?" asked North, frowning at the truck. "You were supposed to be waiting."
"There was a phone call, Slayer's trying to retrace where it was made right now," said Fire. "Before that, what did you guys get?"
"The store keeper couldn't wait to talk about how the case ruined his business, but he did say that he saw Maya the night she disappeared," said History.
North noted that Fire tensed "Hold your horses, he only saw her get into a pickup. Since it was dark, he couldn't make out what the color was, or anything, but he was sure she got into a truck. And apparently did it willingly. At that point, he just thought she was someone getting picked up by her friends, and she hadn't even walked into the store yet. She was taken away before she could buy anything."
"She must be hungry," said History.
"Uh - it's already two months since then, so it would be good if we don't think too much about her condition," Fire mumbled. "Anyway, did he tell you the exact time?"
"He said it was probably after ten-thirty," said North. "He just checked his clock, but didn't note the time properly. Ella should know what time Maya went out, and how long it takes to get there by foot."
"Slayer got out the reports of the case already," said Fire. "He even sent me copies of the reports to my phone." He pulled out his phone and searched through the documents it contained. "Oh, here. She went at ten-fifteen. Matches the time, since from their university dorm room, it takes fifteen minutes or so."
"I see," said North. "So, did something happen?"
"Yeah," said Fire. "We got a call from the victim - apparently-"
"The victim herself?" asked North, stunned.
"Yeah. It ended with a scream."
"What did it sound like?" asked History. "That's what Slayer's retracing right now, right?"
"Um - what did it sound like . . . I didn't hear it properly. Sorry."
North smacked him lightly. "Pay attention to details no matter how disturbing they get, or are! Are you saying that you didn't listen to the whole call? Or didn't pay attention to it?"
"I didn't listen to the whole call," said Fire, grimacing. Then frowned. "Slayer did. Slayer had the phone all the way up to the call ended."
North looked surprised. "He did, huh? Putting his job first, as usual."
"But what if its not Maya who called?" asked History.
"What do you mean?" asked Fire.
"What if Maya was forced to do that, and she has no choice?" asked History. "Can you consider that?"
Fire frowned, then froze. "If it's not her, then . . . then . . ."
* * *
Ella could see that Fire seemed hesitant, the way he talked to North and History outside the truck. Then she turned to Slayer. "How do you track the signal from a call?"
"I'm afraid that if I go into detail with it, I will start with the basics of learning to learning computer language," said Slayer, frowning at the screen.
"And if you find out where the signal comes from, what are you going to do?" asked Ella.
"It might give us a hint of who called, and where," said Slayer. "Also, it might be that he lives somewhere around that place."
Then his hands dropped. "Wait, no, that . . . can't be . . ." he glanced up and gazed through the front windshield at the crowds of people walking through the city streets.
"What's up?" asked Ella.
"That called was not Maya, unless pranks likes this is her kind of thing," said Slayer anxiously as he started to bite his thumbnail. "And if its not her . . . it's not to be her kidnapper."
"What do you mean? Where did the call come from?" Ella asked. "Have you found it?"
"It's probably someone who knows you," said Slayer.
"The kidnapper," said Slayer.
"That - that's not true! The kidnapper can't know me!"
"He knows your phone number. That kidnapper should know who you are, too, and what you're up to. He might even know that you're looking for Maya, if this prank call was because of that. In other words, the kidnapper is watching us, too."
Ella looked around outside the truck windows, her eyes wide. "Maya's kidnapper is watching me? How? When? If that's so, then . . . where did he go?" She whirled to Slayer. "What about the phone signal?"
Slayer closed his laptop, then pointed out the windshield. "There's an old payphone just a couple of store down from here. The whole time, I didn't see if anyone was there, so I definitely missed the point to see if someone was on a phone somewhere. That call could either be a threat or a warning.
Ella slapped a hand over her mouth. "Then - Maya? Maya might be . . ."
At that moment, Fire threw open the door to the back seat, then stopped, seeing their distraught expressions.
He gave them an uneasy and strained smile. "Damn, if you've got the same guess, Slayer, then I've got to be more careful than now, if the kidnapper is someone far more thoughtful than we think he is."